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Sonoma County sheriff candidates locked in limbo, with early vote returns inconclusive

2022 Primary Election Results

For more local election results go here.

With thousands of ballots still being counted, it may be weeks before voters know whether the race for Sonoma County sheriff is headed for a November runoff.

Frontrunner Eddie Engram was on the brink of the 50% plus one threshold needed to claim victory outright, but Deva Proto, the county’s election chief, said Wednesday afternoon that there are likely 45,000 votes still uncounted.

According to preliminary data, Engram had received slightly more than 50% of the ballots counted as of late Tuesday. If he holds that lead once all the votes are tallied, he will avoid a general election runoff later this year.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” Engram, a 48-year-old Sonoma County assistant sheriff, said Wednesday morning. "There’s still a lot of ballots to count, so you don’t know where it’s going to end up.“

His opponents, Carl Tennenbaum and Dave Edmonds, were substantially behind in early returns.

As of late Tuesday, Tennenbaum, a 65-year-old retired San Francisco police sergeant, had received 26.99% of the votes counted, while former Sheriff’s Office Capt. Edmonds, 59, brought up the rear with 13.47%.

Calling Engram’s margin “razor thin,” Tennenbaum said, “Regardless of the outcome, I think we made a statement.”

Edmonds did not respond to Press Democrat requests for comment.

The latest results, posted late Tuesday, included ballots received by mail, processed and scanned by 8 p.m.

They did not reflect early mail-in ballots, votes cast during early voting and the roughly 3,300 votes cast at the polls on Election Day, according to Proto.

Proto anticipated updated results would not be available until Friday.

The race to lead the largest law enforcement agency in the county, only the second contested sheriff’s election in a quarter century, was seen by many as the marquee item on the June ballot.

Now locked in limbo, the top two candidates represent competing wills among Sonoma County’s electorate.

Tennenbaum, the local left’s favorite, focused on issues of oversight and community relations, criticizing controversies and in-custody deaths at the Sheriff’s Office.

Engram, backed by outgoing Sheriff Mark Essick, the two unions representing Sheriff’s Office employees and other powerful political groups, relied on his decades of insider experience at the agency.

Though he trails Engram by nearly half the votes counted, Tennenbaum said, “For me to be relatively unknown and to run this campaign and have this success — it’s just amazing.”

Engram said he is encouraged by his slight edge over the others.

“No matter what happens, the hope is that I don’t go to a runoff. But the fact is that I won the majority of the votes. Even if we do go to a runoff, that puts me in a strong position moving forward,” Engram said.

Tennenbaum disagreed.

"Half the people didn't vote for Eddie at this point, and that shows voters want change,“ he said.

A runoff in the general election, where there will likely be more voters, many of whom statistically younger, would work in his favor, Tennenbaum predicted. ”Should we get to a November runoff election, there will be a much larger turnout and a larger interest in change.“

Notably, 9.54% of the votes counted as of late Tuesday went to Kevin Burke, the former Healdsburg police chief who died by suicide in April after pulling out of the sheriff’s race weeks before.

He remained on the ballot due to strict election laws that prohibited changes to voter materials, even in the event of death, after March 31.

“People vote with their heart a lot of the time, and Kevin was an extraordinary leader,” said Leo Buc, a political analyst and campaign consultant who worked on the Burke campaign before his abrupt withdrawal. “People really, really felt that he stood for something, and I think they’re expressing that through the vote.”

Buc said he was surprised by the early returns, expecting Burke to earn a much smaller percentage of votes than he did.

However, he did not believe voters selected the late police chief to send a message to the remaining candidates. Some voters may simply have been unaware of Burke’s death, he said.

“Kevin was really a remarkable person, and I expect many of those votes are meant as a tribute and not as a protest vote,” Buc said.

If Engram prevails, he will be the first Black sheriff in Sonoma County, and one of few in California’s history.

However, the assistant sheriff does not emphasize his race or the significance of it in his potential victory.

“I didn’t want to make that something central to the campaign,” Engram said. Regarding the ballots cast in his favor so far, he said, “I think a lot of those folks were looking at who the most qualified candidate is.”

His race “plays a factor in some people’s votes for or against me, but I think overall it didn’t play a role,” Engram said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

2022 Primary Election Results

For more local election results go here.

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